September 15, 2014 – Read my thoughts

I’m devouring books again.

I was a great reader in high school, but during my college years, I couldn’t indulge my habit. Pleasure reading would have greatly interfered with my required academic reading. (Indeed, one Easter break, I started reading The Phantom of the Opera but didn’t manage to finish it before classes started again. Consequently, I was two days behind in my homework.)

When my reading groove is going, I am fast. For novels, I don’t try to figure out what will happen before it happens, because I am usually wrong and also I like to see what the message of the story is before deciding what I think. (It’s a conversation where I have to let the person, or book, have their say to be sure I understand and am able to speak on the same topic.)

While reading fast means I can get through lots of books quickly (Elanor & Park took me one day, as did The Memory Keeper’s Daughter), it also means I miss things. I have a friend who takes months to read something that I can finish in a few days, because she is processing and writing and responding the whole time. It had never occurred to me to try to regulate my pace before, but since that conversation, I have started connecting and thinking more about what I’m reading. I have been getting better at reading slowly and thoughtfully; The Undertaking lasted three weeks, since I intentionally set the book down after every chapter. My new CSLewis books will be similar reading; if I want to make sure I digest them, I need to take smaller bites of ideas and chew thoroughly. (Also, I hope to find people willing to discuss the books with me. I’m slowly coming around to admitting I’m a verbal processor.)

Maybe my intentional slower reading of certain books is why I am suddenly able to read more than one book at a time, provided they are different types. After all, what are you supposed to do between sections of The Problem of Pain or Sisters: the lives of America’s suffragists when your reading gears are still going? Why, pick up Geisha: A Life of course, or else Seven Daughters and Seven Sons.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how very many books there are and how, even if I do nothing but read for the rest of my life, I couldn’t read them all. Thank goodness for the ability to build a “Want to read” shelf on GoodReads.

 

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September 12, 2014 – Snippets of thoughts

Quiet nights bring different considerations. Here are a few of mine, while listening to Benjamin Francis Leftwich:

 

Relaxing can be found is different ways, sometimes even doing laundry.

 

I’m learning the power of deciding not to entertain thoughts that I don’t need to.

 

“…when pain is to be borne a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.” -CSLewis’ The Problem of Pain.

 

I’m particularly attached to the word indefatigable right now. I keep setting it in front of other works, like indefatigable grace.

 

“…grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” 2 Timothy 1:2b.

 

Peace is something I tend to forget about.

 

“Make my mind free from fear, you know I can’t do it on my own.” -Josh Garrels’ Children of the Earth

August 26, 2014 – Always default to generosity

There’s a woman, maybe only ten years older than me, standing too far out in the road. Is she waiting to cross? No, because she is waving her hands at me, making eye contact in a way that pedestrians usually do not. I slow to a stop and roll down the passenger-side window a few inches.

“Listen,” she starts, her hands no longer waving but up in a I-mean-you-no-harm way, “I’m not a crazy person, and I’m not on drugs or anything like that. I was just a victim of domestic abuse, and I’m short seven dollars on getting me and my kids to the women’s shelter, and I’m asking everybody, and I just need seven dollars.”

“Oh-uh-yeah,” I stammer, “Let me see what I have.” I fumble through my bag and pull out my wallet. Two dollars. “Here,” I hand them through the couple inches of space between the window and the car roof. “But, do you need a ride?” I ask, suddenly conscious of my recently-found conviction to pick up hitch hikers. After all, if there is a need that I can help, I have a responsibility to do what I can.

“No, I’ve got all my stuff. I just need seven dollars,” she says.

“Hang on.” I reach into the console of my car and grab the mason jar where I collect quarters, usually used for parking and spontaneous chicken nuggets. I shake coins into my hand and begin counting out the remaining five dollars. I can’t tell how many are in my hand, so I end up passing them to the woman. “Here, count these.”

As she starts counting them in fours, I realize that my car is still in gear, although somehow I thought to turn the four way flashers on. I shift into Park.

What am I doing, making her count out quarters? Do I expect her to give the extra back? Is it not better to “default to generosity,” as my uncle counseled me last month?

Shamed, I pour more coins into my hand and pass them to her. Surely, that must be enough.

“Thank you, thank you. I just want to get me and my kids on the next bus,” she says, one hand holding the money, the other her phone.

I remember the man and the pizza and my failure last month. “Can-can I pray for you?” I ask, hardly hearing my own words.

She fumbles with her hands and frees one up the reach inside the window, and I catch it with mine. I ask her name, and we pray for comfort and God’s love as another car drives around us. When we finish, she thanks me again and walks away, one hand held up by her head in a gesture reminiscent of triumph.

I drive away, shaking a little. I think of my desire to volunteer at the women’s shelter, wondering if this might be the first step. How can I ever discover if she made it or not? No shelter gives out information regarding the people there, so I won’t be able to call and check. But then I remember I know people who go to work there once a week; I can ask them to keep an eye out for her.

But doesn’t seven dollars seem like a lot to travel the fifteen-minute drive to get to the women’s center? I do not use the bus at all, but it does seem a bit steep. I feel a bit sick. Did I just get played? I remember being instructed many times to buy someone food instead of simply giving them money, which can be used for drugs or alcohol or anything. We aren’t supposed to enable people. It doesn’t take more than seven dollars, surely.

But I correct myself. It doesn’t matter. I am not called to determine whether I am being played or not; my job is to be ready to fulfill the need. After all, isn’t there a women’s shelter in Pittsburgh, which would cost more to get to?

There is no way for me to know what she is going to do with the money, but I chose to believe that she was being honest. With no other information that what she told me and my own reading of the situation, all I can do is try to meet the need I see.

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August 16, 2014 – The Lament of Eustace Scrubb”

This is a song by The Oh Hellos that has been much on my mind lately. I listen to it when I wash the dishes and when I run the bleachers. (If you don’t know the story of Eustace Scrubb, you should read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S.Lewis. For now, you should know he was a rotten jerk of a boy, who was transformed into a dragon as a result of laziness and greed. As this creature, he finally discovers the value of friendship and compassion. If you want to know what happens, go read the book.)

The band seems to have caught Eustace on the evening finally sees himself honestly for the fallen person he is. He is facing the fact that the ship will have to sail away from the island and leave him there in the morning, because they cannot stay and he cannot travel with them. There are a few lines in particular that give me pause.

“Brother, forgive me. I know that I’m the one to blame, cause when I saw my demons, I knew them well and welcomed them…”

“…When I touched the water, they tell me I can be set free…”

 

 

I do not own the song.

August 6, 2014 – Writing truth

When he was facing a blank page, Ernest Hemingway would tell himself, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know” (A Moveable Feast.) 

Spoken word poet Sarah Kay teaches her students a trick to begin the poetry-writing process, telling them to make a like of “Ten things I know to be true.” (During her TED talk, she told the audience to pick three. “If we all started sharing our lists out loud…at some point, you would realize someone has the exact same thing or one thing very similar to something on your list. And then someone else has something the complete opposite of yours. Third, someone has something you’ve never heard of before. And fourth, someone has something that you thought you knew everything about, but they’re introducing a new angle of looking at it.”

These pieces of advice have been an inspiration and an encouragement for me.

On this small planet wrapped in the expanse of the universe, there are many things that are true. When trying to decide what “the truest sentence is,” I choose not to define truest to mean the truth that I have known for the longest or the truth that is a the heart of life. Instead, I focus on the truth that is most forefront in my mind, the one that I feel at that time. Usually, this helps me to follow an emotion or a thought to the real issue, which is an opportunity for writing. One poem that has sprung from this exercise was on the temptation of running away.

When I write my list of truths, I generally do not have to find the full ten before I realize that the dynamic of two of the truths is one of tension or interest. My most recent poem from this exercise came from the truths that 1. I am a woman and 2. I believe that the Bible is the word of God. (This poem is not done. I had to put it aside for a while.)

Truths can be rough, forcing you to admit things that make you uncomfortable or making you change your mind about something that you’d rather not. Some truths are better shared and explored and struck with different ideas to see how they sound, but others are held quietly and closely until the right time.  Some truths are fact (I ate Frosted Bite-Sized Shredded Wheat this morning for breakfast,) and some are deeply held faiths (I hold to the truth that I am a sinner and Christ is my savior.)

While a poem about breakfast cereal may not be earth-shattering, I am not always trying to split the world in two with my poetry. And there may be many poems already about the grace of God, but sometimes I just want to add to the conversation from my angle.

What are some of the truths you write about?

August 1, 2014 – To borrow a quote…

There’s a passage in the book Eat Pray Love where author Elizabeth Gilbert details her first meal in Rome:

“The first meal I ate in Rome was nothing much. Just some homemade pasta (spaghetti alla carbonara) with a side order of sautéed spinach and garlic…Also, I had one artichoke, just to try it; the Romans are awfully proud of their artichokes. Then there was a pop-surprise bonus side order brought over by the waitress for free—a serving of fried zucchini blossoms with a soft dab of cheese in the middle (prepared so delicately that the blossoms probably didn’t even notice they weren’t on the vine anymore). After the spaghetti, I tried the veal. Oh, and I also drank a bottle of house red, just for me. And ate some warm bread, with olive oil and salt. Tiramisu for dessert.

“Walking home after that meal, around 11:00 PM, I could hear noise coming from one of the building on my street, something that sounded like a convention of seven-year-olds—a birthday party, maybe? Laughter and screaming and running around. I climbed the stairs to my apartment, lay down in my new bed and turned off the light. I waited to start crying or worrying, since that’s what usually happened to me with the lights off, but I actually felt OK. I felt fine. I felt the early symptoms of contentment.

“My weary body asked my weary mind: ‘Was this all you needed then?’”

Gilbert, E. ( 2006). pg 35-36

Like Ms. Gilbert, I have realized that sometimes, it is the simplest things that are the most soothing and comforting. My experience was not as dramatic as Ms. Gilbert’s; I only had a couple full, emotional weeks, not the full-blown divorce and life crisis that she went through. Still, I felt drained and exhausted.

I found myself sitting at my desk at lunch scratching out a the first poem I’d written all month, a silly one, a re-writing of Hey Diddle Diddle. Somewhere in the meaningless task of trying to keep the rhyme and rhythm while infusing my own statement, I realized that I was excited and really awake, (seemingly for the first time that week). I paused, looked at the poem in front of me, and then I looked (metaphorically) at myself. “Is this what you wanted, some quiet release in a beautiful way, a quick draft of the liquor of creativity? Was this all you needed then?”

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July 31, 2014 – Songs have insights

I was at a good friend’s wedding last month, and they danced their first dance to the song I And Love And You by The Avett Brothers. I’m sure I must have heard the song before, but it struck me in such a different way. Ever since, I occasionally use some of my precious data on my phone to look it up on YouTube to listen to it.

 

Sitting in a coffee shop this afternoon, exercising my overthinking muscles, this line pierced me: “When at first I learned to speak, I used all my words to fight, with him and her and you and me, ah, but it’s just a waste of time…”

 

Is this what I’m doing? Finally finding my own hands and feet to move, flailing around and hitting those beside me? Realizing I have my own words to speak and instead of building up, am I just tearing down? Am I screaming, angry to have been so quiet for so long and blaming the people around me who have had their voices all along?

But I may not be entirely wrong about everything. The question is, what is my fault and what can I change and is it worth it?

 

 

Finally got around to buying the album

Finally got around to buying the album